That's Gotta Hurt! Or does it?
Its not often that a science-fiction action movie starring Keanu Reeves can make you feel really, really stupid, but each part of the Matrix trilogy succeeds in doing just that. At first, it wasnt so badthe original Matrix was fairly easy to follow with but a few interruptions in the data stream. Then came The Matrix Reloaded, causing widespread systemic failure. And now we have The Matrix Revolutions, which promises to clean up rampant plot viruses and allow us end-users to finally stop worrying about whether the third Matrix movie will be any good.
So, armed with The Complete Idiot's Guide® to World Religions in my left hand and Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs2nd Edition (MIT) in my right, I marched in to see Revolutions confident in the fact that I would at long last figure this sucker out.
Precisely 129 minutes later, I was still mystified. I couldnt help but wonder: Was it my fault? Had my public-school education failed me? Was I simply too obtuse to recognize the religious allegories, the political metaphors, the computer-science references inserted into this kung-fu tale of human rebellion? Or maybe the filmmaking Wachowski brothers were the ones to blame. Could it be that their scripts are so abstruse that no moviegoer without advanced degrees in philosophy, religion, and applied network technology can understand them? Frankly, I dont know whether to criticize Andy and Larry Wachowski for making an action-movie trilogy that requires its viewers to conduct further academic research to comprehend it, or to congratulate them. I mean, Sylvester Stallone never made such demands of his audiences.
But the over-arching question about The Matrix movies is a simple one: Are they entertaining? Id have to say yeseven if the first film is by far the best one, and even if the next two chapters suffer from big-budget-sequel bloat. As action pictures, they still have the most kick-ass fights, the slickest chase scenes, and the coolest CGI imagery. Once you take the movies more seriously as their scripts demand, though, you may find them either lacking or overwhelminglacking in real surprises, or overwhelming in arcane details. Or both.
When I saw Reloaded five months before, I was sure the Wachowski brothers had blown it: bizarre dialogue, pointless fight scenes, ponderous speeches, explanations that sounded like endless gobbledygook. After the success of the comparatively low-budget The Matrix, the brothers were awarded with unlimited time and moneywith the result appearing like a typical Hollywood sequel rather than the culmination of the original films vast potential. Now, having seen Revolutions, I am prepared to make a reassessment, even if Im still not completely sure what actually happened in the story. While Revolutions doesnt fully answer several plot questions, it hangs together sufficiently enough to redeem Reloadeds mysterious meandering.
For those blissfully unaware of The Matrix, heres the rough idea: Sentient machines actually rule the world, having destroyed most of humanity long ago. Most of the humans still living are actually used as batteries to power the machinesbut to keep them alive, the machines have plugged the humans into a virtual-reality network called the Matrix. Thus, what we humans consider the "real world" is actually a computer construct that we "live" in. However, there are a band of human rebels outside of the Matrix who aim to free their brethren. Theres a prophecy that foretells of "The One," a hacker who will be able to open the minds of enslaved humans to reality. Enter Neo (Reeves), who can bend the reality of the Matrix itself to battle the machines computer programs. Its like an extremely elaborate version of Tron.
But Tron never had so many hidden meanings crammed into the script, where characters names can actually be Biblical references, where dialogue includes philosophical treatises, where whole plotlines may translate into political statements. So even as youre watching Neo deliver compound fractures to the nefarious Agent Smiths skull, you may also be wondering how Jean Baudrillards Simulacra and Simulation really fits into the big picture.
Well, let the grad students in the audience worry about that. More importantly: Does Neo get the job done in the end? And do the Wachowskis offer a satisfactory dénouement to their trilogy? After much careful reading of online discussion forums, I believe they have. The brothers assiduously avoid the big cliché ending (former human batteries rising up from the wreckage of the Matrix to see the dawn of a new day) for a more practical, if less gratifying, one. While Revolutions still leaves things a bit ambiguous, it explains enough to make the whole enterprise satisfactory. Certainly, I was troubled by a whole list of bizarre questions walking out of the theaterWhat the heck happened to Merovingian? Why didnt Zion have its own EMP weapon? Why did Agent Smith get all gas-faced when he absorbed The Oracle?but I also had fun trying to figure them out on my own and with the help of others.
Of course, you may say, "You shouldnt have to read online forums about an action movie to figure it out," and I think youve got a point there. But the fact is, I did start liking the various Matrices better the more I engaged in discussions about themand how often does a multiplex movie inspire that kind of interaction? Never. So, despite their problemsstilted dialogue, less-than-purposeful action sequences, often confusing expositionthe Matrix movies are nevertheless unique cinematic experiences that defy a "thumbs-up/thumbs-down" judgment. Therefore, I must congratulate the Wachowski brothers for making an action-movie trilogy that requires its viewers to conduct further academic research to comprehend it. Whether you swallow their reality is entirely your choice. I believe Ill go for the red pill.